Application open for Frontier Technologies

The UNICEF Innovation Fund is currently looking to invest in companies that are using machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain or extended reality (virtual and augmented reality (VR/AR)) technologies to build software solutions that bridge learning or connectivity gaps towards employability for young people.

Submission deadline

31st March

FAQs

Projects are assessed by UNICEF Innovation Fund team and recommended for funding to the internal board. Companies need to fulfill the following mandatory requirements to be considered for funding:                                          

  • Registered as a private company

  • Registered in a UNICEF programme country (see list here)

  • Working on open source technology solutions (or willing to be open source) under the following licenses or their equivalent:

  • (i) for software, a BSD license, 

  • (ii) for hardware, a CERN license and 

  • (iii)  a CC-BY license for design or content, a CC-BY license

  • An existing prototype of the open source solution with promising results from initial pilots

  • Solution has the potential to positively impact the lives of the most vulnerable children      

  • Generating publicly exposed real-time data that is measurable

The following criteria will be used:

  • Relevance of solution for children and young people, problem-solution fit and potential for application at global scale

  • Novelty of project and alignment with Innovation Principles 

  • Suitability of the team and key personnel to implement the project

  • Project budget and financing

Step I: Check Eligility

Interested companies are required to check the eligibility of the Innovation Fund

 

Step II: Submit Application

Interested companies are required to submit an online application through the Fund website. You should provide the information and supporting documents indicated in the form. 

 

Applying to the Fund does not automatically ensure that the submitting company will be selected to participate in next stages of the application process.

 

UNICEF reserves the right to change or cancel the requirement at any time during the application/selection process. UNICEF also reserves the right to require compliance with additional conditions as and when the investment decision is made. 

 

Step III: Submit Request for Proposal 

The Innovation Fund reviews all applications and notifies companies of the decision. Shortlisted applicants are invited to submit a detailed proposal, this is called the Request for Proposal (RFP) step. 

 

Step IV: Demo Interview

After a careful review, companies shortlisted at the RFP step are invested for an online demo interview. This is usually a 30 min interview the with Innovation Fund team and experts from our tech teams. 

 

Step V: Final Result 

Based on a complete assessment of the application, RFP and interview, the Innovation Fund makes the final investment decision and notifies all selected companies.

If you have any additional question about this REOI, please submit questions through THIS FORM. Answers to all questions submitted will be shared publicly.

UNICEF Innovation Fund only accepts submissions from companies registered in UNICEF programme countries. See the list of countries here

i) Project is developing new technology

ii) Project is expanding/improving existing technology/ platform (i.e. it will be in a place where the technology is being used but will involve new tech being built)

iii) Project is a new application/ piloting new use case for existing technology (i.e little or no new technology will be built and it will be used in the same place)

Yes. We recommend that you use translating tools such as Google Translate if you’re unable to complete the Expression of Interest in English.

Eligibility

Individuals cannot submit expressions of interest. The entity submitting an expression of interest needs to be a legally registered company. If the funding is awarded, the university is accountable for all the contractual responsibilities with UNICEF. 

No. UNICEF will assess the suitability of the team and key personnel to implement the project. The team members’ formation and experience in similar projects will be an asset for the expression of interest.

Only a registered company can submit an expression of interest. We recommend approaching a start-up incubator or accelerator in your region. Often times they will be able to help you with the incorporation process. 

NGOs or CSOs are not eligible to submit an expression of interest for funding through this investment vehicle. If you are a NGO or CSO working on a great prototype, we suggest you to approach UNICEF country office in your country to learn about other funding and partnership opportunities available. 

You have an active prototype - it works. You are in a stage where you need a small amount of money to get it to the stage where you can prove it works to other people. Maybe you need to hire another developer or two, or get design help to communicate what your project can do.  Maybe you need some server space. Refactoring something into a new language because what you first wrote it in won’t scale. Testing it in a new area.  Getting some data points. These are not huge financial investments, but they are what the Innovation Fund can help with, to accelerate your work. 

The company that submits the expression of interest needs to be registered in a UNICEF programme country. If the company is partnered with companies in the countries where the product or service will be used, it is recommended that the expression of interest be submitted by the partner company registered in the UNICEF Programme Country. If selected, the company that participated will enter into a contractual agreement with UNICEF. 

In this case the company should be the entity submitting the REOI. The companies submitting the REOI are asked to list partners and advisors and it is possible to list an NGO as partner. UNICEF will issue Institutional Corporate Contracts to the successful applicants and it is the company that bears all the contractual responsibilities vis a vis UNICEF.

An eligible company can submit more than one expression of interest for different projects. Each will be assessed independently based on the criteria. The funding cap will be applied to each application.

Selection

The following criteria will be used:

  • Relevance of solution for children and young people, problem-solution fit and potential for application at global scale

  • Novelty of project and alignment with Innovation Principles 

  • Suitability of the team and key personnel to implement the project

  • Project budget and financing

You are eligible to apply when you have an active prototype. We consider an active prototype one that works and has generated some initial data to confirm this. You can expand or improve the prototype on the basis of data generated during the period of investment.

Yes, but if the core team does not have the necessary technical expertise,  the company should explain in their expression of interest in the relevant questions what type of technical expertise their partners or advisors are able to provide. 

The UNICEF Innovation Fund does not seek a financial return nor does it take equity - the open source code or hardware the company develops and tests is UNICEF’s “equity”.

Eligible companies must be generating publically exposed real-time data that can be / is measured. Where real-time data is currently not being measured, this requirement will be assessed based on the plan to set up, collect, display and analyze real-time data during project implementation. This plan must be articulated in the expression of interest.

 

If the investment request involves support for development of new technology, real-time data will need to provided to track this process. If the project requests support for application or piloting of the solution, the real-time data should show progress in this area.

 

This data will support sharing of the company’s progress and experiences with UNICEF and other companies working in the same space. The data will be displayed on the real-time reporting website which is publicly accessible and shows the performance of the Fund, each portfolio and information about each company or project that has received investment in. It also presents stories about each project.

The real time data you provide could be for example number of users, database queries, transactions, missions run, ping times, etc. With limited connectivity an option could be to construct a SMS-based reporting of some of this data, or to find another mechanism to send secondary reporting data to the online tracking system.

Open source

In the Expression of Interest form, the company will be asked about the licensing of the technology. We invest in open source technology solutions (or willing to be open source), "Open License” means the following terms or their equivalent as specified in the Project Design Statement and Budget:

 

(i) for software, a GNU general public license, a BSD license or an MIT license,

(ii) for hardware, a CERN license, MIT license or TAPR license and

(iii) for design or content, a CC-BY license.

 

Please provide a timeline for going open source. It is recommended that you supply as much information as possible to motivate how your idea will be open source.

To qualify for our investment, the solution you hope to get funded by us has to be open source or you need to indicate you are willing to place it on an open source license.

 

We don’t require your whole company or all the technologies you develop to be open source, but the solution that receives our investment has to have an open source license by month six of our year-long investment period. The UNICEF team has an advisor that can help the startups part of our portfolio in choosing the most appropriate open source license.

 

Please note that solutions that meet all the criteria and are entirely open source (from end-to-end; server to app; hardware to software etc.) will be given priority in the selection process.

 

Using specific examples:

If there is a specific product, such as control software for a rover - that is open source, it will meet the criteria.  If this product connects to a larger ecosystem that is fully open-source, then that is the best  possible scenario.

 

If it connects to proprietary hardware the assessment will look at how independent the open-source component is. i.e. what kind of applicability it could have if applied to other scenarios.  If the dependencies are too great on a single and proprietary hardware element, it will get less traction.

 

For example: U-Report is a full (server to app) opens-source environment. It runs on ‘proprietary’ hardware (i.e. mobile phones) but it runs on any phone, because it uses SMS. In this case, a market assessment and tech evaluation was done and a merging of proprietary and open source tools still made global application possible. Same could be true for UAV software (i.e. image analysis): the Innovation Fund could invest in a piece of software created that could work on images from any drone. The hardware would still be proprietary, but the tool we are investing in (and that we will put in the public domain) is open.

 

The same applies to a mobile app. If an open source app connects ONLY to a proprietary server-side backend then the app would not qualify for investment. We wouldn’t be able to reuse it.  In this case, the investment can be only for very specific open-source pieces of code and environment. This is more likely to be successful than a bundle, as we can assess their viability more easily.

There are a number of sustainable business models built around open source solutions. Open source licenses do not necessarily compromise the sustainability of your business. If you are willing to open source your technology, you can still apply and indicate this in the submission.

Results

Only selected companies will be contacted with information about the outcome and next steps.

The company will be requested to open source the IP of your product or idea. The company will be the open source license holder. In addition, the real-time data collected will be shared publicly. All other intellectual property is owned by the company.

UNICEF will issue Institutional Corporate Contracts to the successful applicants.The participating entity - a private company- needs to be legal entities, meaning registered companies in order for UNICEF to have a contractual relationship with them. The companies that are selected for funding will need to register as a vendor/supplier with UNICEF

The invested funds should be used for what the company details in their proposal. 

The company will need to provide some type of real-time data that can be accessed through the internet. The companies selected for funding will sign an institutional contract with UNICEF.  The Institutional Contract will be subject to the same UNICEF terms and conditions that will be detailed in the RFP, which includes requirements related to open source licensing of the solution.